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Clin Infect Dis. 2001 Sep 15;33 Suppl 3:S108-15.

Development and spread of bacterial resistance to antimicrobial agents: an overview.

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Nosocomial Pathogens Laboratory Branch, Hospital Infections Program, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA 30333, USA.


Resistance to antimicrobial agents is emerging in a wide variety of nosocomial and community-acquired pathogens. The emergence and spread of multiply resistant organisms represent the convergence of a variety of factors that include mutations in common resistance genes that extend their spectrum of activity, the exchange of genetic information among microorganisms, the evolution of selective pressures in hospitals and communities that facilitate the development and spread of resistant organisms, the proliferation and spread of multiply resistant clones of bacteria, and the inability of some laboratory testing methods to detect emerging resistance phenotypes. Twenty years ago, bacteria that were resistant to antimicrobial agents were easy to detect in the laboratory because the concentration of drug required to inhibit their growth was usually quite high and distinctly different from that of susceptible strains. Newer mechanisms of resistance, however, often result in much more subtle shifts in bacterial population distributions. Perhaps the most difficult phenotypes to detect, as shown in several proficiency testing surveys, are decreased susceptibility to beta-lactams in pneumococci and decreased susceptibility to vancomycin in staphylococci. In summary, emerging resistance has required adaptations and modifications of laboratory diagnostic techniques, empiric anti-infective therapy for such diseases as bacterial meningitis, and infection control measures in health care facilities of all kinds. Judicious use is imperative if we are to preserve our arsenal of antimicrobial agents into the next decade.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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